Veteran Salt River Project (SRP) line workers based out of Tempe Service Center spent a week providing first-time electricity to families on the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona.
“I’ve been in the trade for 25 years, and this is the first time we’ve ever done something like this,” says Kyle Bridges, SRP line working foreman. “We sometimes provide new subdivisions with power, but this is completely different — these families have never had electricity before. To me, it’s monumental and groundbreaking. I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Devayne and Rethema Kenny live near the community of Ganado. Thirty-year-old Rethema had the couple’s second child five months ago. They also have a four-year-old son named Levi. The young couple has waited nine years to have electricity in their one-room, hogan-style home.
“Since we have never had a fridge, it’s been hard not having fresh food like fruits, vegetables and milk, especially when my four-year-old wants something cold or fresh,” explained Rethema. “We are so grateful that our kids have a brighter future, and we can now raise them healthy and strong — and not living on dried and canned goods.”
Two SRP line crews and a total of 12 employees worked 12-hour days and provided electricity to 10 homes in the first few days of the project. SRP is one of 24 community-owned electric utilities from 12 states volunteering in a collaborative effort known as “Light Up Navajo.” The American Public Power Association (APPA) and Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) are organizers of the six-week volunteer humanitarian effort. Since the project started April 6, 142 families on the Navajo reservation now have electricity.
“When I saw the whole convoy of SRP equipment coming into our yard, it really touched my heart,” says Anthony Lee, an NTUA electric line foreman. “Many generations have gotten accustomed to not having basic necessities like electricity like and running water, things that people who live in the city take for granted.”
According to APPA, of the 55,000 homes located on the 27,000-square-mile Navajo Nation — roughly the size of West Virginia — about 15,000 homes do not have electricity. They represent about 75 percent of all U.S. households that do not have power. For the Kenny family, they say this week will alter and improve the rest of their lives. With electricity, they next hope to have running water one day soon. But first, Rethema is most excited about buying a refrigerator.
“All the appliances that we get to have — the refrigerator, the microwave, the pellet stove, air conditioning, and we get to use a blender,” says Rethema. “I am so grateful, from the bottom of my heart. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us. We will forever be grateful. Every time we turn on our switch, we will say, ‘Thank you, SRP.’”
As SRP crews wrapped up their first week of building new distribution lines throughout the vast and desolate Navajo Nation, the second wave of SRP line workers were preparing to depart from Tempe to relieve the wave one crews.
“I think I can speak for all our crews that are coming or are already here. To come to a residence that doesn’t have power or running water and to be able to be a part of improving that quality of life, and be a part of this, is humbling,” says Bret Marchese, SRP director of distribution maintenance.
SRP crews work on the Kenny family home.